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2004 World Technology Awards Winners & Finalists

Kaigham (Ken) Gabriel

Please describe the work that you are doing that you consider to be the most innovative and of the greatest likely long-term significance.

Imagine a world where silicon chips can talk, hear and interact with the people around them. It isn’t as far away as you might think. In the future, interacting with the technology that drives much of our lives won’t require a mouse or keyboard. It will only take a voice. Instead of entering numbers into a microwave, you’ll be able to tell it what to cook and walk away. Rather than using a PIN number to get money from an ATM, you’ll simply say your name, and voice recognition technology will authorize the transaction.

As information systems increasingly leave fixed locations and appear in our palms and pockets, they are getting closer to the physical world creating new opportunities for perceiving and controlling the environment around us. Driving this change is a revolutionary technology known as microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS, that allows information systems not only compute, but to also sense and act. This technology promises to change the way people interact not only with information systems, but with one another.

My work in MEMS began more than a decade ago, when I began to focus on creating devices and systems that deliver these sensing and actuation needs to empower people with new and improved communication and control capabilities. In 2001, I founded Akustica, Inc. to bring these concepts to the marketplace. Today, Akustica develops a line of acoustic MEMS devices--- microphone chips and speaker chips--- that are made using standard and widely available semiconductor processes. By having smaller, lighter and more cost-effective microphone chips with embedded signal processing for adaptive directionality, noise suppression, and speech recognition, we will fundamentally change the way people use sound at home, work and play. We will also harness speech--- one of humankind's most important differentiating and communication capabilities--- for use in interactions with information systems--- perhaps the most important amplifiers of personal performance in our global society.

Our work to enabling natural audio and speech interaction devices will not only open the door to information technology for the hundreds of millions of people around the world who today are shut out, but will remove, for all of us, the barrier of languages to human contact, communication and understanding.

Brief Biography

Dr. Kaigham (Ken) J. Gabriel is Founder, Chairman and CTO of Akustica, Inc., a pioneer in acoustic system-on-chip solutions. On leave from his position as a Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering at The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, Dr. Gabriel is widely regarded as an architect of the Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) industry. In 1985 he joined AT&T Bell Labs in the Robotic Systems Research Department, where he pioneered the field of MEMS and started the silicon MEMS effort, leading a group of researchers in exploring and developing IC-based MEMS for applications in photonic and network systems.

During a sabbatical year from Bell Labs, Dr. Gabriel was a Visiting Associate Professor at the Institute of Industrial Science, University of Tokyo in Japan, where he led joint projects at IBM Japan Research, Toyota Central Research Laboratories and Ricoh Research Park. After leaving Bell Laboratories in 1991, he spent a year as a visiting scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory transferring micromechanics processing technology to the Nanoelectronics Processing Facility.

From 1992 to 1997, Dr. Gabriel was at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In 1992, he started the agency’s MEMS Program. He quickly grew the effort from zero to over $70 million a year, securing over 80 projects. He was then appointed Deputy Director of the Electronics Technology Office (1995-1996), and then Director of the Electronics Technology Office (1996-1997) where he was responsible for roughly half of the more than $400 million in Federal investments in electronics technology programs, including advanced lithography, electronics packaging, MEMS, optoelectronics, millimeter and microwave integrated circuits, and high-definition displays.

In 2003, Dr. Gabriel was named a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum. In addition, he is the founding Executive Director of the MEMS Industry Group, the principal trade organization representing the North American MEMS industry, and a founding Director of three MEMS-focused companies, XACTIX, Verimetra, and Optical Micro Machines. Dr. Gabriel serves on the strategic advisory boards of several companies, including Coventor, Crossbow Technology, and Network Elements. He has been awarded the Carlton Tucker Prize for Excellence in Teaching from MIT, appointed to the Senior Executive Service (SES), Co-Chaired the Defense Science Board (DSB) 1999 Summer Study on 21st Century Department of Defense Technology Trends and Evolution, and called on to provide technology briefings to former Secretary of Defense William Perry.

Dr. Gabriel holds an S.M. and a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.